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Adventure, Alpine / January 18, 2016

Gear Review: Helly Hansen Ridge Men’s Shell Jacket

Written by: Phil Lindeman

It’s rare to find a jacket that does just about everything you want in any conditions, but it hasn’t stopped manufacturers from trying. Outerwear technology moves forward nearly as fast as smartphone tech and small robotic vacuums – and sometimes it’s as kitschy as a Roomba!

New for the 2015-16 ski season is the Helly Hansen (HH) Ridge Shell, a men’s jacket in the new ULLR line. There’s also a women’s version, Aurora. Both models are made with the Norwegian company’s latest and greatest fabric: Helly Tech Professional 3L, as in three layers of fabric. The trio of high-tech membranes is constructed just so to allow for the best breathability and waterproofing, or so HH says. The company also tapped a team of pro athletes to design and test the jacket in the alpine. They’re freeriders, the sort of people who head into the backcountry and stay there for hours on end — exactly the athletes you want creating a jacket. Now, this team of pros is never named, but I assume it includes freeskiers like Canadian Matt Elliott and American Jackie Paaso.

The company touts the Ridge as a winter ski shell to the core and, on most levels, it’s true. The fit, lines, colorways and features are all ready-made for a day on the slopes or even deep in the backcountry. But when it comes to function — including that fancy new fabric — I’ll argue it’s more of a three-season jacket for casual skiers and a four-season jacket for high-intensity athletes. It can handle snow, precipitation and sweat, sure, but when it comes to warmth and comfort on a frigid day over exposed slopes, this $500 jacket doesn’t stand alone. Just be ready to layer like you’ve never layered before.

 

“It’s more of a three-season jacket for casual skiers and a four-season jacket for high-intensity athletes. ”

Construction and color

Along with fancy new materials, the Ridge shell features plenty of must-haves for skiers and snowboarders. It looks like this might be where the unnamed pros came in: large cuffs to fit over thick gloves, pit zips to dump extra heat, pockets placed intuitively to work well with a backpack. The jacket also has a large hood designed to fit comfortably over a helmet — and still cinch fully — plus a powder skirt made to link with the Ridge pants, also part of the new freeride line. Each of these features works as advertised, except for the pit zips. More on that in a second.

The Ridge doesn’t disappoint in the fashion department. Like all HH gear, the colors are bright and clean, and the model I tested with lime accents on a navy outer earned more than a few compliments. Even the inner mesh stitching looks sexy. The men’s jacket comes in three colors (deep blue like mine, tropic green and charcoal) and each one is runway ready.

Ski test

I took the Ridge out for a day of skiing on an alternately cloudy and sunny day, which gave me a pretty good feel for how the shell handles in all conditions. Again, this is an un-insulated shell jacket. That means layering is a must, so I wore my usual combination of a mid-weight base layer and relatively light fleece hoodie for the day.

In the morning, when the sun was out and shining, the jacket did exactly as promised. It was light and never felt claustrophobic, thanks in large part to a relaxed fit that’s made for the explosive movements of skiing. The wind was blustery throughout the day, but even so I never felt like it was cutting through the fabric. The fully taped seams did their job against drafts and water. From start to finish, my inner layers stayed dry. Though, I’ll admit that it wasn’t snowing heavily and I didn’t go out of my way to swim through snowdrifts. Still, the fabric stayed dry and never froze, even when the temps dropped after the sun went away.

That’s when the Ridge started to falter. When the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, I noticed that my core temperature started dropping just as fast on chairlifts and during breaks. The jacket held warmth just fine on runs (simply moving helped), but when I was just hanging around it did very little to keep me warm. Although the 3L fabric is lightweight and technically sound, it just doesn’t cut it in terms of sheer comfort. I started wishing for more layers.

For $500, I want a jacket that doesn’t require another $500 worth of base layers to stay warm. That said, if you already have a good, insulated puffy that’s built for layering, the Ridge is definitely something to consider for skiing. But even without the right layers I wouldn’t pass on this shell. Come spring and summer — when temps aren’t quite as brutal — this will make a near-perfect camping or trekking jacket. It packs small and weighs minimal, plus the 3L fabric is pretty damn tough. It will withstand the occasional exposed boulder or tree branch.

MSRP: $500 through the Helly Hansen online store

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about the author

Phil Lindeman

Phil Lindeman is a gear junkie based in Summit County, Colorado, where the powder is deep and the singletrack is nearly endless.

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